News · 30 Nov 2020

COVID-19 has led to a rise of the neighbourhoods, more trips to sports venues and hospitals: study on Gojek trips

COVID-19 has transformed mobility in Singapore in a series of ways, according to research by a team of academics from the National University of Singapore (NUS) and Singapore Management University (SMU), who studied Gojek trip data from January to October 2020. But amid these shifts, point-to-point transport - which includes ride-hail players like Gojek - continues to be an integral part of the country’s transport network.

Rise of the neighbourhoods

The study found that residential areas have emerged as the new hotspot for commuters. After the Circuit Breaker (which ended on 1 Jun), trips originating from residential areas and ending in other residential areas have increased as a fraction of total trips relative to the pre-Circuit Breaker period by nearly 10%. Suburbs that have seen the greatest increase in traffic include Jurong East, Yishun, Tampines and Simei. 

Ben Charoenwong, an assistant professor of finance at NUS Business School who is part of the research team, said: “Rather than visiting shopping centers or hanging out at a coffee shop, people appear to be gathering in private residences because they are more controlled environments.”

Commuting distances have also fallen since the COVID-19 outbreak: from an average trip time of 15 minutes between January and March (ie, before the Circuit Breaker) to 13 minutes between April and October (during the Circuit Breaker and the first two phases of Singapore’s re-opening). This suggests travel has become more local and confined to the neighbourhood, and the fulfillment of essential services (such as shopping for groceries) or human interactions (such as catching up with closed ones at a cafe) are occurring closer to home. 

Prof Charoenwong noted: “These patterns of household travel, and by implication, related spending, are important for policymakers when thinking about what fiscal policies to consider, and how much of an impact those policies may have in stimulating economic growth.”

Lien Choong Luen, General Manager of Gojek Singapore, added: “As commuting distances fall, point-to-point transport services such as Gojek become a more worthwhile mode of transport. This is because commuters can save a good amount of travel and waiting time, and benefit from affordable fares and on-demand rides.”

More trips to hospitals, sports venues

More people - including healthcare workers - are using point-to-point transport to commute to hospitals and medical centres. Between April and October this year, healthcare facilities consistently featured among the top pick-up and drop-off locations on Gojek’s platform. In particular, the Singapore General Hospital, KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital, and Tan Tock Seng Hospital saw the greatest increase in traffic since the Circuit Breaker.

This growth is in part driven by GoHeroes, a Gojek initiative launched in March to ensure healthcare workers can commute to their workplaces safely and comfortably. As part of GoHeroes, Gojek partnered with the Sayang Sayang Fund and all public hospitals in Singapore to provide ride vouchers worth $10 each, for distribution to hospital employees as well as charitable organisations who stepped up to provide home care or nursing services.

Mr Lien said: “People have increased their usage of ride-hailing to commute for work or health check-ups at medical centres, as it offers a safer ride environment. This is by virtue of the greater social distancing, privacy and comfort point-to-point transport provides, as compared to the more communal modes of transport.”

Commuting to sports and recreational venues such as East Coast Park and Singapore Sports Hub has also become more frequent among residents, relative to other trip types. Journeys to or from sports and recreational venues accounted for close to 50% of all daily trips after the Circuit Breaker, up from around 40% before the Circuit Breaker. This boost persisted throughout Phases 1 and 2 of Singapore’s reopening, a testament to more people maintaining their healthy and active lifestyles.

Shih-fen Cheng, an associate professor of information systems at SMU who is also part of the research team, commented: “During the Circuit Breaker, people were allowed to go outside to walk, run, cycle or engage in exercise alone, on top of performing essential services. As a result, many of them have been exercising more frequently, even increasing their travel to sports venues after Singapore embarked on its reopening. It looks like Singaporeans are overall adopting a healthier lifestyle, which is a very positive outcome.”

Peak hour still a phenomenon

Interestingly, the notion of peak-hour traffic has persisted. Based on Gojek data, the periods of 6am-9am and 5pm-7pm continue to record the highest number of completed trips on weekdays. However, as people now enjoy more flexible working hours (where they can commute to the office during off-peak hours for instance), the busiest hour on weekdays has been outmoded. While it was previously 8am-9am before the Circuit Breaker, it is 6pm-7pm today.

On weekends, the busiest hour continues to be 6pm-7pm. But what is new is that the evening peak period during the week has now surpassed (in terms of number of completed trips) the morning peak period on weekdays, which used to register the biggest number of completed trips in any week. This points to more flexible working arrangements, in addition to ongoing social activities after work.

That said, on the back of the recent return-to-work measures in Singapore, Gojek has seen a steady pick-up in ride-hailing demand. This includes a 30% month-on-month increase in trips to and from the CBD, since the new measures were announced in September. Some locations in the CBD that have seen significantly higher traffic include AXA Tower, Guoco Tower, OUE Downtown 2 and Marina Bay Financial Centre.

Mr Lien noted: “Having created a safe ride environment in line with a new way of living where hygiene, health and safety have become paramount, Gojek is in a good position for growth."

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